THERE were some rather strange goings on at Upton Park last Sunday.
Great strikes that weren’t celebrated. Own goals. Joe Cole scoring. Dubious penalties. Sam Allardyce talking sense.
But arguably the most shocking instance is one that underlines why Liverpool’s championship drought will stretch to at the very least 24 years.
For only the fifth time in Premier League history, the Anfield outfit had come from being behind at half-time to win a match away from home.
Liverpool supporters will no doubt recall their side overturning a two-goal interval dismissal to win 3-2 at Manchester City in October 2008, or the controversial 2-1 win at Everton 12 months earlier.
They may also remember a similar fightback to earn a 4-2 triumph at Fulham in October 2004, the first time Liverpool had overturned a half-time away league deficit in more than 13 years.
But hats off to anyone who remembers the 2-1 victory at Charlton Athletic in February 2005 during which Fernando Morientes scored his debut goal.
Comebacks have been the theme for Brendan Rodgers’s side in recent weeks, whether it be their efforts to secured Europa League qualification, their gradual rise up the Premier League table or the re-emergence of several players.
Both Cole and Jordan Henderson have nudged their way back into the mind of the Anfield manager with some important goals and improved performances, while Jose Enrique has been reborn and Stewart Downing’s versatility down the left flank has proven beneficial.
However, it is no coincidence Liverpool’s upturn in form has coincided with the return of Lucas Leiva.
The defensive midfielder was sorely missed for much of the previous 12 months, first with cruciate ligament damage and then, after an aborted four-match return in August, a major thigh complaint.
With Lucas back in his accustomed holding midfield role, Liverpool secured back-to-back Premier League wins for the first time in almost a year by following a home triumph over Southampton with last weekend’s 3-2 success at West Ham.
The Brazilian will be in the engine room again when struggling Aston Villa visit Anfield at the weekend with Rodgers’s side aiming to creep ever nearer their ultimate goal of a top-four berth and Champions League qualification.
And Lucas admits having to rebuild his shattered morale after limping out just minutes into the August home clash against Manchester City was the most difficult moment during his lengthy spell on the sidelines.
“After the knee injury against Chelsea it was hard, but not as hard as the second injury,” he says.
“I had worked so long and so hard to get back and then I got another serious injury. It made me think ‘did I do everything right? Could I have changed something?’ but there was no answer to that. I did exactly when I should have done.
“The second injury was just unlucky. For whatever reason it happened to me and I had to accept that. For a few days it was very hard for me and people who were close to me felt a lot of that. After I had accepted it, I realised I needed to be positive and look to the future.”
While, as anybody who follows him on Twitter or Instagram will acknowledge, Lucas is renowned for his perennially optimistic view on life, there were dark days during his rehabilitation.
“I think I am the same as everyone else,” he adds. “When I talk to people I try to say positive things because it is what people expect me to do and what I need to have inside me.
“But there have been difficult times. I didn’t think I was finished, but I doubted what was going to happen.
“The same as everyone else who has been injured, I had bad moments, bad feelings and bad days when I wanted to disappear.
“And I had good days and good moments when I really wanted to keep going and keep pushing. I think I had to work a lot at my mental strength and that helped me to get through the difficult moments.”
Although only goal difference separates Saturday’s opponents Villa from the relegation zone, the Midlanders are unbeaten in their last four Premier League games and this week won through to the semi-finals of the Capital One Cup.
Lucas was substituted before Cole and a James Collins own goal turned the game in Liverpool’s favour at Upton Park last weekend, and the Brazilian accepts it will be some time before his is once again firing on all cylinders.
“The most important thing for me is to be fit, to be training every day and to be available for games,” says the 25-year-old.
“Only when I have a good run will I start to think about improving the performance level.
“If I had thought that in my first game back I would be at the best level I could be at then I would be lying to myself. It’s progress I am looking for.
“I know this season is going to be hard for me because I have been out for a long time. When you have been out for a long time it takes time to get back to your best level. I must make sure I stay fit after this injury and play until the end of the season at a good level.”